İstanbul: A Gastronomy Capital

Appetizing street delicacies, most colourful pickles, freshest fruits, daily caught fish and seafood, delicious vegetables cooked in olive oil and dozens of different meze plates on white linen tablecloths… From stylish dinner tables to simplest dishes İstanbul is real paradise for every foodie. Welcome to food heaven!

Turkish cuisine is world-famous for its kebabs and baklavas. But these well-loved specialties are just the beginning of it. Türkiye has a huge gastronomic heritage thanks to the multicultural character of Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, as well as the rich and varied geographic characteristics and culinary traditions of each and every region in the country. As the meeting point of two continents the megapolis is home to every single regional specialty of the vast country. From robustly flavoured kebabs to vegan specialties cooked in olive oil, traditional Turkish cuisine offers a huge variety of savours. And İstanbul is the tasting room…

Amazing flavour chords

Turkish gastronomy is like an onion – it has many layers in it. And it is like garlic –subtle and surprising. It is all about unexpected yet perfect taste combinations.

Today, in İstanbul, some fine dining restaurants are largely inspired by the city’s heritage. Protecting the values of Ottoman cuisine, follow the recipes of the past, they offer new versions of certain traditional recipes in their tasting menus. Combining melons and lamb, yogurt in soups and sour cherries in stuffed vine leaves, Ottoman cuisine was really the leading actor of Middle ages. And since İstanbul was then the capital of the Ottoman Empire, it has been the gastronomic capital of Türkiye par excellence.

The most important meal of the day

Famous Turkish poet Cemal Süreya said, “Breakfast must have something to do with happiness!” It might not be the case for others but this is 100% true for Turkish people.

Turkish breakfast is a rich experience accompanied by local brewed black tea, round shaped sesame seed covered pastry (simit) or bread, a selection of local cheese, black and green olives, butter, clotted cream and honey, jam, veggie egg scramble (menemen) or boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers.

The ultimate kebab and seafood experience

In Türkiye, there is a huge variety of kebabs – they can be cooked with garlic, aubergine, tomato, onions, etc. The meat is marinated with spices and when grilled, gives off a rich smell that promises a flavour feast. Plates of colourful salads and mezes decorate the tables.

Kebabs are traditionally complemented by sizzling roast vegetables and flatbreads. Wash it down with some turnip juice (spicy or plain) or some buttermilk drink (ayran).

As the gastronomic capital of a country surrounded by three seas, İstanbul offers a rich variety of seafood dishes. Grilled bluefish, fried anchovies, horse mackerel, cod, bonito, and turbot are the leading actors of the dining scene. Dried mackerel, bottarga, canned local sardines, cold marinated seabass, and dry salted tunny – served with red onions and dill – are also the must-try seafood specialties of the city.

Fresh and cooked in olive oil

The gastronomic experience does not end there. When it comes to vegetables, Western Turkish cuisine is largely based on olive oil and fresh ingredients instead of heavy spices.

The culinary tradition incorporates a huge range of vegetable dishes known as dishes cooked in olive oil. Here, dishes rely less on seasonings and more on tasty fresh ingredients. Therefore, it provides a large variety of vegetarian and vegan food.

Workingman’s eats: as if it was home-cooked

In the city, some traditional places strive for keeping the culinary heritage alive. Esnaf lokantaları (workingman’s eats) is a centuries-old Turkish tradition and it was essentially established to serve lunch for locals working nearby.

These small lunch spots serve dozens of daily cooked homey dishes – flavoursome soups, legume dishes, stuffed vegetables, rich stews with some buttery rice or earthy bulgur and cacık or komposto on the side, and some traditional desserts to make a nice finale.

Hearty specialties

Muhallebiciler (pudding shops) consists of another unique Turkish specialty. Traditionally serving milk puddings, you may also have some chicken soup or indulge yourself with a nice traditional refreshing dessert on a summer afternoon.

Tavuklu pilav (rice pilaf with chicken), döner kebabs, and various böreks (baked pastries made of a think flaky dough, filled with meat, cheese, spinach, or potatoes) are other specialties that you would see on a pudding shop menu. One of their most amazing specialties is tavukgöğsü –the chicken breast with white pudding –don’t let yourself be scared of the idea, this is a very old recipe that has survived until today and it is amazingly delightful with a little bit of ground cinnamon on top of it. The tea is always good here –don’t forget to have some before you leave.

Love at first sight: street food

Speaking of tea, don’t miss a chance to make a pit stop at a tea garden near the sea, order yourself a cup of black tea and enjoy the view. Or treat yourself with freshly squeezed fruit juices, fresh fruit, and desserts sold on the stalls. 

İstanbul is a perfect address for pickles… With their unique astringent smell, bright colours, and their mixed savour combining spicy, sweet, and sour it is a paradise for vegans. These pickles can be sold on the street accompanying rice with chickpeas.

You will definitely see that you won’t be able to stop snacking in this city.

Just follow the smells: Roasted chestnuts and roasted chickpeas in winter, boiled or roasted corn in summer.

If you're feeling a little hungry, opt for heartier street delicacies. Simit (sesame bread), kokoreç (charcoal-grilled mutton’s intestines), deep-fried mussels with special garlic sauce tarator, midye dolma (mussels stuffed with rice and spices), all kinds of pastries, if you are a fish lover, scarf down a balık ekmek (fish sandwich) on the go.

Sweets for the sweetest

Confectionery in Türkiye has been a part of everyday life for centuries. Traditional indulgences such as delights and sweets for the sweet tooth fill the shops. Confectionary chefs offer sweets of all colours and tastes. The traditional Ottoman classic akide şekeri (handmade rock candies) was invented in the 16th century at a time when sugar was more valuable than honey. These candies have various colours and various flavours – bergamot, lemon, orange, strawberry, rose, sesame, hazelnut, mint, cinnamon… and they all promise an amazing sensation on the palate.

If you have time, take a seat and have a full glass of homemade lemonade or treat yourself with some traditional sherbet (tamarind, poppy, rose, or cornelian cherry).

Apart from bonbons, toffies, and candies, it is possible to find the famous Turkish delights and flavourful almond and pistachio paste. Remember to take some home so that you can share the sweetest moments of your trip with your loved ones!